It was a scene to behold. There was Julie strumming the guitar – singing softly, there was David minding the hot dogs on the flaming grill, Cat handing out cups and paper plates, and there was Lupe Haley – dishing out her pasta dish, a fruit salad, a veggie salad and dessert. And the homeless and hungry stood patiently in line.
It was a Monday, and as she has every Monday for the last 22 years, Lupe Haley came down to Ocean Beach to feed the homeless and whoever else showed up.
Yet hamstrung by demands by local police officers that she obtain the proper permit for public food handling, this Monday Lupe has set up her food line not at her usual site in Saratoga Park, right next to the sand, but in a friendly church parking lot off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
Ever since Fox News Channel 5 did a spot on her April 26th, Lupe has been in the public eye – and not all of it good, for it has brought the heat down on her. Lupe, once homeless herself, has been going to the beach with her food despite her house burning, finding out she has cancer, and despite serving food in pouring rain, she has remained undeterred from coming down to the beach – until now.
Obviously enjoying the attention, Lupe claims she has the proper permit, and told me that the County Health Department stated to her that she is legal and that local San Diego cops do not have the jurisdiction to keep her from feeding homeless. I did see a card she had – it was a certification that she has had food-handling education.
Before the parking lot scene, I had joined about a half dozen locals down at Saratoga Park waiting for Lupe. All were regulars and had benefited from Lupe’s generosity. One older woman told me she really counts on the meal that Lupe provides. I assumed she and the others were homeless.
Up drove a San Diego Police patrol car, appearing to monitor the situation. I approached the officer to see if he knew the whereabouts of the woman of the hour, but he was as puzzled as the rest of us.
Officer Ron Weiss offered, “I’m just doing my job,” he said, sitting in his patrol car. “And listen, tell Lupe,” he continued, “that I’m willing to go with her to the County to get whatever permit she needs.”
I remembered it was Officer Weiss who had been profiled in the Fox News broadcast on Lupe as the officer who had to order her not to feed anyone without the proper permit.
A few more people wandered over to the concrete picnic table, also looking for Lupe. The older woman grew inpatient and left as the wind picked up. I imagined that my article would be titled, “Woman who feeds the homeless failed to show.” It was past 6 pm and usually Lupe appeared at the park close to 5.
Finally, Julie – a young Latina who assists Lupe – called one of the other helpers and found out that Lupe was setting up her food line in the parking lot between Brighton and Cape May Avenues.
By time we all had arrived, Lupe and her crew were working out of the back of a large pick-up truck. Dessert was already being handed out by Cat Peterson who has been helping Lupe every Monday for the past 8 to 10 years.
I approached Lupe and she instantly turned towards me and my camera and notepad with big smiles. Very gracious, very friendly, the diminutive woman was all bundled up as she explained to me that she feeds many hungry people every Monday – depending on just which Monday it is. “The first Monday of every month,” she said, “only about 75 show up, but by the fourth Monday there’s 200 people.”
Tonight’s line seemed shorter than usual, I wondered. Having to adjust the site of the food line may be a factor.
She and her helpers are given food by Henrys Market, by Starbucks and other stores. I saw Henrys wrappers on a stack of packaged pastries and rolls. Folks began gathering around the truck and then settled into a line for the main meal. There was no pushing or shoving as everyone was very polite and cordial – and very appreciative. Julie’s soft singing floated over the crowd as David’s hot dogs were flipped around, appearing ready for consumption.
Not everyone is appreciative at what Lupe does, however. Someone calls the police, someone is complaining, someone doesn’t want groups of homeless people gathering.
I took my photos and was readying to leave when I approached a bearded older guy who seemed to have some authority over the parking lot. I innocently asked him, “Why are you helping Lupe?”
“She’s my sister,” he replied without hesitation, his spiritual sister. These were humans and they were hungry and he was there to offer space for the meal. The church parking lot had become a sanctuary for the woman who feeds the homeless every Monday. And true to her beliefs, Lupe had done it again on this Monday.